Johnston Mayor: ‘We are running short on funds’

Taxpayer funding for Chief Rainone Gym renovation boosted by 50 percent

Posted 5/27/22

Renovations have been underway at the Chief Rainone Gym for more than a year. The project may now cost taxpayers 50 percent more than expected.

The town initially contributed around $600,000 to …

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Johnston Mayor: ‘We are running short on funds’

Taxpayer funding for Chief Rainone Gym renovation boosted by 50 percent


Renovations have been underway at the Chief Rainone Gym for more than a year. The project may now cost taxpayers 50 percent more than expected.

The town initially contributed around $600,000 to rehabilitate the run-down facility at 45 Mill St.

Earlier this month, at their regular meeting, Johnston Town Council boosted municipal funding for the project by pledging another $300,000 of taxpayer money.

“It’s coming along,” Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena told Town Council on May 9. “You’re not going to recognize — for those of you who played in the gym, including myself — you’re not going to recognize it. It’s going to be beautiful.”

Polisena and Christopher Correia, director of Johnston’s Recreational and Community Services, delivered an update on the project. Three agenda items requested council’s approval to transfer funds and agreements between the mayor and local contractors to finish several integral pieces of the gym — interior and exterior painting and a fire alarm system.

“We are running short on funds,” Polisena told Town Council. “One of the reasons is the cost of materials. It’s just ridiculous. I think it’s artificial inflation throughout the country, but that’s another story. We’re asking for another $200,000. I believe that should be plenty of money to get us through.”

Polisena said an unnamed benefactor may be willing to donate the needed cash, however that deal has yet to be finalized.

“As I said before, we have a potential corporate citizen that’s helping us out that may write out a … check for $200,000,” Polisena said. “If he does that then I will put the money right back where it came from … So I’m asking, so we can complete the project, this has been a long journey. It’s unfortunate that things have gone up so crazy. But it is what it is.”

From the project’s inception, Polisena has assured Town Council that he has been working hard to secure “in-kind contributions” from local businesses and unions.

“We’ve had a lot of in-kind contributions,” Polisena explained to Town Council. “If we didn’t have the in-kind contributions that we have now, we’d be over $1 million. The construction company helps out, the trades union … but the prices are out of control.”

Town Council member Robert Civetti examined the list of work that has been completed at the site, and a list of outstanding tasks. A resolution on the meeting agenda requested a transfer of funds to the Rainone Gym Capital Improvements Fund (although the amount of the transfer was not included on the agenda).

Although Polisena and Correia were requesting only $200,000, Civetti proposed a larger transfer.

“Mayor, based on the list that’s here, do you think the $800,000 is enough or should we go a little bit higher?” Civetti asked.

Correia informed Town Council that, year-to-date, the project had spent approximately $591,000 of the tax dollars provided by the town.

“I love the generous offer,” Polisena said in response to Civetti’s question. “This is a town building. It’s going to be ours for our children and the children of the future. I don’t have to tell all of you, that place up there’s jammed.”

The facility was dedicated to former Johnston Police Chief Anthony Rainone in June 1962, and has provided a safe athletic place for children from Johnston’s Thornton neighborhood for more than a half-century.

“So this will be great,” Polisena said. “This is going to have a whole new look.”

Polisena turned to Correia and asked, “Do you think the 200 ($200,000 more from the town) will do it?”

“Listen, they’re in a generous mood,” the mayor said, referring to Town Council. Correia said that the $200,000 would be close, but it would still leave a little room for unplanned contingencies. He said $250,000 would be a little bit better.

Civetti clarified his offer.

“Rather than having you come back,” Civetti said to Polisena and Correia.

Councilman Civetti made a motion to amend and adopt the resolution increasing the amount from $200,000 to $300,000. Town Councilwoman Linda L. Folcarelli seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously, 5-0.

Town Council also passed a resolution requesting that the Rainone Gym’s scoreboard be inscribed acknowledging that it was donated by Mayor Polisena. Councilman Joe Polisena Jr. recused himself from the matter and stepped out of the room for the vote.

Folcarelli made a motion to adopt the resolution; the motion was seconded by Councilwoman Lauren A. Garzone. The vote passed 4-0 with Councilman Polisena Jr. recusing.

“We’d like to have the Rainone gym refurbished to assist us in our programming, and we’d like to have open gym time for Johnston youth to play there again,” Correia said about the Rainone Gym last June.

Accessibility issues have been challenging at the site for years, both inside and out. Those issues have now been addressed, and just the final touches need to be made before the Rainone Gym provides a safe play place for yet another generation.

“We’d like the gym to handle overflow from the new indoor recreation center, which gets quite busy,” Correia said in 2021. “Renovations are long overdue.”

Town officials have approved of Mayor Polisena’s use of a hybrid funding approach to rehabilitate the gym — roughly half of the nearly $1 million project (now approximately $1.3 million project) will be funded by taxpayers, while the other half has been contributed by local unions and businesses donating workers and materials, Correia explained.

“We’re working with donations and donated work when possible,” Correia said in June 2021. “It’s sort of a hybrid approach.”

Michael F. Sabitoni, a lifelong Johnston resident and business manager for the Rhode Island Laborer’s District Council and also president of the Rhode Island Building Trades Union, has been playing ball in the gym for the past five decades. He and his three sons still utilize the gym, and Sabitoni has been integral helping the project progress.

Sabitoni used his contacts in the building trades to find workers and construction firms with a shared interest in saving the facility.

“Gym space is really at a premium these days,” Sabitoni said in 2021. “I can’t wait to see it complete. Giving back to the town that I still live in, that I love, my hometown, that makes me happy.”

In 2021, Correia said he had hoped the project would be finished by the start of the next school year. A year later, cost overruns and delays have held up the process.

The site has also long been plagued by graffiti. The town has installed LED security lights and wants neighbors to remain vigilant, asking they report any suspicious at the construction site.

Mayor Polisena credited his son, Town Council Vice-President Joseph Polisena Jr., with the initial idea to renovate the gym, and request $600,000 in town funds for the project.

Town officials agree the project is vital for the residents of the town’s Thornton neighborhood.


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